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(Cliff)Hangin' With Bill Freeman

The inventor of the cliffhanger tells us about the value of trying different forms of riding; how important it is for beginners to have a very expensive flatland bike (it isn't); a major difference between flatland and artistic cycling; and the REAL origin and name of the forward-rolling Karl Kruzer.

BMXFLATLAND.NET: Hey Bill, the Los Angeles local heads get to ride with you a fair amount; but for those who don't, let us all know what you've been up to, and how your riding has been going.
BILL: Well, I have been mostly just working a lot and riding when I can. I typically work between 40 and 55 hours a week. I have a job that can be pretty physical at times, so there are plenty of days when I don't have that much energy to ride, or my body is just feeling too beat up to ride.

I try and ride about 3 to 5 times a week. During the week I either ride flat at the Ralph's spot that is near my apartment, or I just roll around Mid-City hitting the street obstacle-type spots that are near my hood: walls, banks, gaps, stairs, curbs, or ledges and that sort of thing. BMX is just BMX to me; the more you learn, the better off you are in the long run. You are able to use whatever skills that you've obtained as building blocks that can lead into bigger and better things. It also just adds to overall bike control.

I almost always have a lot of ideas floating around in my head that I want to figure out and learn when it comes to my riding, so I tend to always have a couple of dozen new tricks that I am working on at any given time.

Bike check time. Tell us what you're running right now for parts.

My bike is set up to be as versatile as I possibility could make it. I prefer it to be good for any type of riding that I want to do on it. I want it to be able to take all that I can throw at it. I need it to be solid. It is a great overall bike that is both durable and pretty maintenance-free. It allows me to go months at a time without having to work on it, and I would much rather ride than work on my bike.

Frame: S&M LTF 19" stock
Fork: Primo Strand
Bars: S&M Intrikat Prototype. Upsweep 3 degrees, backsweep 6 degrees. The height on mine is 8.25," and they are cut down to 25" wide.
Stem: Suelo 30mm reach with a Tree Headset cap
Grips: Bizhouse Gym Grips, grey mixed with black at the ends for durability
Barends: Fly nylon
Headset: Mostly a Shadow Conspiracy Corvus, with Cane Creek Interlok nylon spacers
Clamp: Federal
Seatpost: Suelo post for a long setup, or a Kalloy for my shorter and more laid-back set up.
Seat: KHE Watanabe
Cranks: Profile 160mm / Fit mixed with some Shadow Conspiracy pieces (mid BB)
Sprocket: Tree Lite spline drive, 28t
Chain: KHE Hollow pin half link
Front Tire: Primo Comet 1.5
Front Wheel: 48h Fly hub / Shadow Conspiracy alloy nuts / Primo Balance 7005 rim, stripped raw then clear anodized
Rear Tire: Primo Comet 1.5
Rear Wheel: 48h KHE Geisha light with 11t driver / Shadow Conspiracy alloy nuts / Primo Balance 7005 rim, stripped raw then clear anodized
Pegs: 4 Tree Bicycles Trick Sticks (4 x 1.5), but currently I am instead running Stolen Nano pegs - diameter: 0.78" (20mm), length 1.37" (35mm) - in the rear right now. Originally, I just wanted to change them out to work on Whoppers; but it is nice to finally get the rear pegs out of the way. I have wanted shorter pegs in the rear for about 6 or 7 years. It has really opened up my thought process as to what else has not really been done. It keeps me from relying on a lot of my back wheel standards, and yet I can still do forward "nub" trucks.
Pedals: Animal Hamilton plastic

Are you into other kinds of bikes besides flatland?
Yes, my bikes get used for every different type of riding, not even just BMX. I did have 4 completes until not so long ago. I just sold my vintage Schwinn cruiser; it was a bit of a Frankenstein-type beast, like a bobber sort of setup. The frame is from the '50s, and it had lots of BMX parts on it too. I also have a 26" urban assault bike that I use as a sort of commuter/thrasher type bike. It is a Black Market, but I have it set up specially for my needs. Then there are my BMX bikes: I have an Ares complete - used mostly for flat - that I keep in Arizona. The other main 20" that I have is the S&M described above. I use it for light commuting, flat, street/park, and - well - just bicycle soul riding. Also, I am in the process of trying to build up a FBM custom 24" BMX cruiser that is going to be a lot of all-around fun once it is rolling.

Let's get to some advice for beginners, and people who are considering taking up flat. I feel like if you want to get down with flatland, you don't necessarily need some mystical, hard-to-attain rare unicorn of a bike; you should just hop on a BMX bike and start doing tricks. Would you agree with that, or not?
I would say that if there is someone who is looking to get into riding, he/she shouldn't worry so much about having some super-expensive or specialized bike right away; it really is not so pressing of an issue. I guess it depends on their age, too: riding BMX can take a pretty big commitment to learn and advance your skills. It might be for you, and it might not.

I think that the universal best way to go would be to look on something like, say, Craigslist, and find a decent used BMX bike of almost any type. You could very well pick up a useable bike for less than $150. Our homie Jonathan Bresley got started on a Next bike, so that is about as far from high end as you can get. It might not be strong enough to last for years and years, but it is enough to get you going in the very beginning.

I know it's a strange point for me to want to make, since this very website includes an online store that sells high-end flatland items; but I think these are things that people need to hear and know. These perceived high barriers to entry are cool for making us existing flat riders feel like part of the exclusive "flatland club," but I feel like it may mislead some people who might otherwise find that they can participate in flatland too.

When I am riding, people will always ask if mine is a "special" bike; and I'm like yeah it's a nice ride, but what's more important are the hours spent riding it. Any thoughts on that?I would say it is way more about the commitment you put into riding, than just simply the bike. The only real advantages to an ultra-modern setup are the weight and the overall strength. When you are starting out, these things aren't really such pressing issues. I'd say it is best that you just work on making yourself a well-rounded rider, and try lots of different types of tricks. You should really try and get the basics down before you go out and spend a boatload of money on the "ideal" setup.

Now having said all that, flatland bikes have definitely evolved over the years; most people, if not all, would say they've changed for the better. You've been around long enough to see fads come and go, and to see which changes create real improvement. So where would you draw the line between these two extremes?

On the one hand, there's "Yes, these unique new aspects of flatland bikes make them better for our purposes;" and then on the other extreme, there's "Dude, just get on any old bike and work your tail off already." Where would you draw the line between the two viewpoints that makes the most sense?
I think it is best to have some knowledge and know-how under your belt before you can even have an opinion or preference as to what will work for your personal riding needs. Having a nice, shiny, new, expensive, pretty bike isn't really instantly going to make you a good rider; developing techniques and perfecting a wide variety of skills while gaining maximum bike control will. So it does not really require the perfect bike; it takes dedication and time put into perfecting the craft. If you develop these things first, and are still interested in taking it further, then there will always be time to work your way into a more pricey bike.

Agreed. My own definition of the perfect bike for any rider is one that doesn't hinder or diminish his/her highest capabilities of riding; so by that definition, even switching out to newer parts more often than is necessary can be less than ideal.

This topic reminds me of a story I once heard you telling about how an artistic cyclist was in town, and you were able to hop on her bike - which wasn't even a BMX bike, let alone consisting of only high-end "flatland" parts - and you surprised her with how well you were able to ride it. Can you recount that story for the readers?
Ines Brunn is her name. Look up some of her videos online; she has got some serious skills. She was in LA for one of the Bicycle Film Festival events, so we got to ride with her at Studio City. To clear up any confusion: artistic cyclists are only able to do a select set of tricks, and in a very certain way. There are a ton of rules when they compete; there is no open-ended ability to do anything that comes to mind, like with flatland. Flatland - as well as BMX for that matter - is very much a "think something up and learn how to do it" type of thing. There are no rules or guidelines whatsoever, and that is just the approach I took to riding her bike.

Artistic cycles have small rear pegs, but the riders are not allowed to use them for doing tricks. They are strictly used to aid in foot re-adjustment, since they ride direct drive and have to sometimes dodge the moving cranks. I was not limited to those rules; I was doing tricks on the pegs and standing anywhere I could. I was using flatland techniques to conquer the possibilities on her bike. So she was stoked on watching me ride her bike, because most of the things I was doing on her bike were things that she has ever even thought of trying: scuffing, wheel walking, mixed peg and pedal stuff (meaning one foot on the peg while cranking the pedals in different positions), standing on the pegs and hand cranking, tailwhip-type things, cross foot, switch foot, boomerang-type things, et cetera. She filmed me for almost 2 hours joking around on her bike.

She was also really caught off guard that I was able to do pedal death trucks and crank across the whole Studio City lot in more or less the first day riding her bike. Even though I have ridden many different unicycles over the years, her setup was not that easy to adapt to. The big wheels, wheelbase, and frame geometry make it a ton different from a flatland bike. I could not even stand on the pedals in a forward pedal death truck; the balance point was super hard to figure out. And that is one of the tricks that she can bust out in circles with no hands!

To wind things up , tell the people the proper name for a forward Karl Kruzer. I know you want to clarify!
Hehe, this is such a common misconception that in my mind has gotten WAY too much momentum. Karl Rothe didn't ever do the Karl Kruzer rolling forward; Dave Fox did do a forward rolling Kruzer, and that is why it is a Dave Duster and always has been. I am not sure how Karl Rothe got so much "credit" for this, it makes no sense to me. There were almost NO riders doing forward rolling tricks when Dave busted these out. It seemed impossible seeing him do them the first time. Dave was a sick rider, and I think he deserves the credit for the tricks he invented, that's all.

Check out some recent videos of Bill's riding. He's the very last rider featured in this edit by One Love BMX:

Bill comes in at the 3:30 mark of Ahmed Johnson's LA Flatland Metropolitan edit: